Tuesday, July 4, 2017

118. Back in the race

Beating each other in the slush race  
(Pic: Luke Metelerkamp)
It was a race of a lifetime I was witness to. It neither involved horses nor cars but a pair of buffaloes racing on a slushy track with a determined athlete in toe. Much like the sturdy pair of bovine, the six-pack athlete was no less determined to win the race either. With hundreds of villagers cheering the racing duo, it has been a long-held tradition of celebrating the man-animal co-existence for a bountiful harvest in coastal Karnataka. And, there were any number of teams from different coastal villages vying for the coveted title.        

I had my first brush with this cultural extravaganza, called Kambala, few years ago in village Venur in the coastal region of Mangalore. It was a pleasant wintry evening in January 2011, the well-lit arena was decked up in celebration with people in all hues thronging the racing track. What had begun as a thanksgiving event for protecting the cattle against diseases, the annual racing event has grown into a competitive sport that enthralls and entertains. The animal rights activists may continue to think otherwise!     

Keeping pace with raging buffaloes on the slush track was indeed testing, as if bovines were running for their life. Racing at an incredible speed, it was a perfect test for human endurance against incredible bovine power. For the fear of running over, half a dozen villagers had to herd together to take control of the animals at the finish line. They would calm the animals by giving it a hug, make it eat and rest before the next race. Each of the racing pairs looked well groomed and healthy, as did the accompanying athletes.


At the finish line
(Pic: Luke Metelerkamp)
Were the animals tortured during training? Were these creatures intoxicated to run the way they did? The organizers had led me to the animal resting places to find for myself if that was the case. 'These are no ordinary cattle, they bring laurels to the village', quipped a team member. These are treated like sportsmen, nurtured and trained in the art of racing from early years. No wonder, there were no marks of external injury on any of the participating animals. So much is at stake that some owners train their buffaloes in separate swimming pool for getting them used to conditions before every race.  

That these are special animals, treated like children and selected for their sturdy features including disease resistance, make me think that this annual cultural event is more than just an occasion for fun and frolic. It promotes the process of natural selection in disguise. The best among buffaloes get selected, nurtured and tested. The animals people race are the animals that help breed the next generation of calves, sturdy to withstand adverse conditions. That such a valuable process is conducted by the communities at their own initiative, and for the benefit of the society at large surely calls for a celebration!        

With hardly anything worth celebrating in the countryside these days, the assent for re-conduct of Kambala by the first citizen of the country has given something for the last citizens to cheer about. Let the race begin again. 

Kambala was banned in 2014, but the outgoing President of India gave a parting gift to the people of Karnataka by granting assent for (re)conducting the sporting event on July 3, 2017.  

Sunday, June 18, 2017

117. I think everyone should know it!

Don't get me wrong if I say that girls spend more time looking for a bridal lehenga, that they wear just once, than a groom whom they seek for life.

In my wildest of dreams I could not have imagined that a six-meter apparel, which came into existence eons ago in this part of the world, could spin a recession-proof billion dollar industry. From the ordinary to the special, or extra-special, it isn't the traditional outfit anymore that my grandmother and mother would wear before setting out in the public. Laced with exquisite embroidery and inexpensive pearls, this earliest stitched skirt has come of age on the global stage by winning accolades on red carpets across the world. And, it is not done yet. 


A raunchy lehenga dance from a Bollywood movie 
Secured at woman's waist but leaving the lower back and midriff bare may have set off its multiple cinematic renditions, from sublime to the raunchiest, but not without letting all-pervasive lehenga earn its meteoric rise as a secular apparel for festivals and weddings. So much so that its traditional variants - ghagra, chaniya, pavdai or lacha - have long faded into oblivion as an annual lehenga business in excess of US$10 billion leaps center-stage into the ever growing wedding industry. It will be sacrilege to imagine a bride without a lehenga!   

No surprise, it remains one of the most sought after apparel for any wedding. Don't get me wrong if I say that girls spend more time looking for a lehenga, that they wear just once, than a groom whom they seek for life. With as many as 10 million marriages in the making each year in India, the six-meter apparel could not have had a better prospect. Celebrity endorsements have set the market abuzz. As designer studios and neighborhood boutiques surface all over, the ubiquitous lehenga has revolutionized the marriage market like never before.


The two-minute lehenga 
Should one buy such an expensive apparel that is worn just once (as its assemblage weighs heavy) or would it make better sense to take it on hire instead? The sociology of lehenga, if there was one, could have offered some interesting insights. Suffice it to say that the lehenga reflects the social status of the bride's family. If that was not the case, most bride families would have conveniently taken a lehenga on hire for the ceremony. Rarely if ever they do so, knowing well that it is worth a single wear only a'la a two-minute lehenga

For the expanding middle class with a notion of false pride, the price of a lehenga isn't worth any serious attention. After all, marriage is once-in-a-lifetime event for which families like to splurge at least a fourth of their lifetime savings, such that the wedding remains talk of the town. Who would want the story of a hired lehenga doing the rounds instead! Little do they realize that for no good reasons the sociology of lehenga is fueling the economy of lehenga on a scale. I've been cautioned to refrain from raking up an issue lest I earn the ire of the lehenga industry.   

But a friend inspired me to bring the lehenga story up. If hiring a lehenga is against the prestige of the bride's family, he tells me,  then why should the family stop at just the lehenga? Will it not add to their pride if they were to buy the ghodi (mare), the band-baaza (musical band) and the rest of it? Well said, I think everyone should know it! 

Some readers have mentioned that 'false pride' extends beyond 'lehenga' into male wardrobe. None of the 'sherwanis' and 'glitzy suits' bought for the occasion (marriage) ever get worn thereafter. 

Saturday, January 28, 2017

116. Reduced to numbers

....our inner wear has a number and so has our outer wear; neither is a shoe without a number nor is a sandal; phone without number doesn't ring and neither does a mobile; success counts on number as failure rues the lack of getting the desired number. 

Being a preferred client, I got a call from my bank's relationship manager about why I had not submitted my 12-digits Unique Identification Number to the Bank. 'Since getting such a number is not yet obligatory by law why should I reduce my identity into just a number', I had responded with a matter-of-fact clarity on the subject. I thought i was tacit in my response, notwithstanding a sigh of exasperation at the other end.     
       
From being a digit on the population register to a number on the electoral rolls, we have been reduced to a number on the cash book at the bank, on the directory of the mobile service provider, on the currency that is but largely plastic in nature and so on. One's birth is a number and so is one's departure; an inner wear has a number and so has an outer wear; neither is a shoe without a number nor is a sandal; phone without number doesn't ring and neither does a mobile; success counts on number as failure rues the lack of getting the desired number. 

With everything but a number, what is a big deal about a person being numbered. But for a crazy soul like me, no one seems to be complaining. What is in a name after all, most seem to be in agreement with Shakespeare. However, my parents don't see any sense in it having named me and my siblings in an elaborate social exercise. Assigning a name to a new born has cultural and spiritual ramifications, that they say can hardly be undone in a jiffy.

And, I don't buy the argument that a number can hide my 'caste', and can put to rest the prevailing social disparity around our cultural identity. Come to think of it, each identification number is only assigned after securing an in-depth social and economic profile of an individual. It could be anybody's guess how this number game might play up at the end, by those in power holding these numbers in big databases to their advantage. I shudder to think about the myriad possibilities.      

Born with the largest brain relative to body weight, nature has bestowed a unique position for humans among all other species. Our upright posture and the ability to walk on two legs have placed us on top of the ecological pyramid, making us the master of not only our own destiny but that of others too. But far from using the big brain to bridge the gap between the physical and the spiritual and beyond, it is pathetic that we have ended up being an exercise in sheer 'numbers'.

The more critical I think the more it surprises me that there is a indeed an unending fascination for numbers among everyone around me. The psychology of numbers has played so heavy on the democracy of numbers in an era dominated by the economics of numbers, that its cumulative impact has been felt by each one of us. No wonder, our house help is as enamored by it as my better half. The game of numbers has caught on with everybody.  
         
Irrespective of caste, class, creed, competence or credibility, the quest of each human of late has been to attain the first six digits. A six figure income is all that each one of us is craving for (as of today). Ironically, those who have already attained these 'six digits' are more unhappy than those who are striving to achieve it. Yet, the race to gain access to a higher digit is relentless. I wonder what worth is life that has been reduced to numbers!